20. Mahāsamaya Sutta

The Mighty Gathering

Devas Come to See the Buddha

1.[253]Thus have I heard.564 This is another curious document, doubtless an example of what RD calls ‘a mnemonic doggrel as was found useful in other cases also by the early Buddhists, who had no books, and were compelled to carry their dictionaries and works of reference in their heads.’ A Sanskrit version from Central Asia has been published, with English translation, by E. Waldschmidt in LEBT, pp. 149-162, and there are also Chinese and Tibetan versions, all of which are quite close to the Pali in general. RD considers the poem (if such we can call it) ‘almost unreadable now’, because ‘the long list of strange names awakes no interest.’ That was in 1910. Possibly modem readers who know their Tolkien may think otherwise. At any rate I have not felt it necessary to try to follow up all the allusions, some of which remain obscure or dubious. Once the Lord was staying among the Sakyans in the Great Forest at Kapilavatthu, with a large company of some five hundred monks, all Arahants. And devas from ten world-systems565 RD has, wrongly, ‘ten thousand world-systems’. The Sanskrit confirms the lower figure. frequently came there to visit the Lord and his order of monks.

2.And it occurred to four devas of the Pure Abodes:566 The realm where Non-Returners dwell before gaining final Nibbana. The Sanskrit has deities (devatā - rendered ʹgoddessesʹ(!) by Waldschmidt) from the Brahma world. ‘The Blessed Lord is staying at Kapilavatthu, with a large company of some five hundred monks, all Arahants. What if we were to approach him, and each recite a verse?’

3.Then those devas, as swiftly as a strong man might stretch his flexed arm, or flex it again, [254] vanished from the Pure Abodes and appeared before the Lord. Then they saluted him and stood to one side, and one of them recited this verse:

‘Great the assembly in the forest here, the devas have met

And we are here to see the unconquered brotherhood.’

Another said:

‘The monks with concentrated minds are straight:
They guard their senses as the driver does his reins.’

Another said:

‘Bars and barriers broken, the threshold-stone of lust torn up,

Unstained the spotless seers go, like well-trained elephants.’ [255]

And another said:

‘Who takes refuge in the Buddha, no downward path will go:

Having left the body he’ll join the deva hosts.’

4.Then the Lord said to his monks: ‘Monks, it has often happened that the devas from ten world-systems have come to see the Tathāgata and his order of monks. So it has been with the supreme Buddhas of the past, and so it will be with those of the future, as it is with me now. I will detail for you the names of the groups of devas, announce them and teach them to you. Pay close attention, and I will speak.’

‘Yes, Lord’, said the monks, and the Lord said:

5.‘I’ll tell you them in verse: to which realm each
But those who dwell composed and resolute
Like lions in mountain-caves, have overcome
Hair-raising fear and dread, their minds
White and pure, unstained and calm.’567 As RD remarks, ‘the connexion of the various clauses of this stanza is obscure’. It is not clear where the Buddha’s actual words are supposed to begin. The verse seems to have been badly joined to the introductory section. [256]

In Kapilavatthu’s wood the Lord perceived
Five hundred of his Arahants and more,
Lovers of his word. To them he said:
‘Monks, observe the deva-host approach!’
And the monks strove eagerly to see.

6.With superhuman vision thus arising,
Some saw a hundred gods, a thousand some.
While some saw seventy thousand, others saw
Gods innumerable, all around.
And He-Who-Knows-with-Insight was aware
Of all that they could see and understand.

And to the lovers of his word the Lord,
Turning said: ‘The deva-hosts approach.
Look and seek to know them, monks, in turn,
As I declare their names to you in verse!’568 Here begins the mnemonic ʹdoggrelʹ.

7.‘Seven thousand yakkhas of Kapila’s realm,
Well-endowed with power and mighty skills,
Fair to see, with splendid train have come
Rejoicing to this wood to see such monks.

And six thousand yakkhas from Himālaya,
Of varied hue, and well-endowed with powers,
Fair to see, with splendid train have come
Rejoicing to this wood to see such monks.

From Sāta’s Mount three thousand yakkhas more
Of varied hue...

The sum is sixteen thousand yakkhas all,
Of varied hue... [257]

8.Of Vessāmitta’s host five hundred more
Of varied hue...

Kumbhira too from Rājagaha comes
(Whose dwelling-place is on Vepulla’s slopes):
A hundred thousand yakkhas follow him.

9.King Dhatarattha,569 The name is the same as that of the ironically-named King Dhṛtarāṣṭra ‘whose empire is firm’ in the Mahābhārata. In verse 11 another Dhatarattha, a Naga king, is mentioned, and the name also occurs elsewhere. Cf. DN 19.1.36. ruler of the East,
The gandhabbas’ Lord, a mighty king,
Has come with retinue. Many sons
Are his, who all bear Indra’s name,
All well-endowed with mighty skills...

King Virūḷha, ruler of the South,
The Kumbaṇḍhas’ lord, a mighty king...

Virūpakkha, ruler of the West,
Lord of nāgas and a mighty king...

King Kuvera, ruler of the North,
Lord of yakkhas and a mighty king... [258]

From the East King Dhatarattha shone,
From South Virūḷhaka, and from the West
Virūpakkha, Kuvera from the North:
Thus ranged in Kapilavatthu’s wood
The Four Great Kings in all their splendour stood.’

10.With them came their vassals versed in guile,
Skilled deceivers all: Kutendu first,
Then Vetendu, Vitu and Vitucca,
Candana and Kāmaseṭṭha next,
Kinnughandu and Nighaṇḍu, these,
Panāda, Opamañña, Mātali
(Who was the devas’ charioteer), Nala,
Cittasena of the gandhabbas,
Rājā, Janesabha, Pañcasikha,
Timbarū with Suriyavaccasā
His daughter — these, and more, rejoicing came
To that wood to see the Buddha’s monks.

11.From Nabhasa, Vesāli, Tacchaka
Came Nāgas, Kambalas, Assataras,
Payāgas with their kin. From Yamunā
Dhatarattha came with splendid host,
Erāvana too, the mighty nāga chief570 Indra’s three-headed elephant. The nagas were both snakes and elephants.
To the forest meeting-place has come.

And the twice-born,571 Birds, like Brahmins, are ‘twice-born’ - first laid as eggs, then hatched! winged and clear of sight,
Fierce garuda birds (the nāgas’ foes) have
come [259]
Flying here — Citra and Supaṇṇā.
But here the nāga kings are safe: the Lord
Has imposed a truce. With gentle speech
They and the nāgas share the Buddha’s peace.

12.Asuras too, whom Indra’s hand572 Cf. DN n.512. Indra, the champion of the gods, had defeated them. once struck,
Ocean-dwellers now, in magic skilled,
Vāsava’s replendent brothers came,
The Kālakañjas, terrible to see,
Dānaveghasas, Vepacitti,
Sucitti and Pahārādha too,
Fell Namuci, and Bali’s hundred sons
(Who all were called Veroca) with a band
Of warriors who joined their master Rāhu,
Who had come to wish their meeting well.

13.Gods of water, earth, and fire, and wind,
The Varunas and their retainers. Soma
And Yasa too. Devas born of love
And compassion, with a splendid train,
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts,
Endowed with mighty powers, and fair to see,
Rejoicing came to see the Buddha’s monks.

14.Veṇhu573 This is the Pali form of Visnu, and the Sanskrit text has indeed Visnu here, though that great god came into his own only after the Buddha’s time. too with his Sahalis came,
The Asamas, the Yama twins, and those
Devas who attend on moon and sun,
Constellation-gods, sprites of clouds, [260]
Sakka the Vasus’ lord, ancient giver,574 Purindada: ‘the generous giver in former births’ (RD), deliberately altered from Purandara (which the Sanskrit version has!) ‘destroyer of cities’. RD thinks the change was made to distinguish Sakka from the Vedic god, but perhaps it is rather a change to make him more Buddhistically ‘respectable’.
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts...

15.The Sahabhus, radiant, bright, came next,
Fiery-crested. The Aritthakas,
The Rojas, cornflower-blue, with Varuṇā
And Sahadhamma, Accuta, Anejaka,
Sūleyya, Rucira, the Vasavanesis,
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts...

16.The Samanas and Mahā-Samānas both,
Beings manlike and more than manlike came,
The ‘Pleasure-corrupted’ and ‘Mind-corrupted’
gods,575 See DN 1.2.7ff.
Green devas, and the red ones too,
Paragas, Mahā-Pāragas with train,
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts...

17.Sukkas, Karumhas, Arunas, Veghanasas,
Follow in the Odatagayhas’ wake.
Vicakkhanas, Sadamattas, Haragajas,
Those gods called ‘Mixed in Splendour’, and
The Thunderer, who also causes rain,
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts... [261]

18.The Khemiyas, the Tusitas and Yamas,
The Katthakas with train, Lambitakas,
The Lama chiefs, and the gods of flame
(The Asavas), those who delight in shapes
They’ve made, and those who seize on others’
work,576 The Nimmanarati and Paranimmita devas: see Introduction, p. 42.
These ten, with tenfold varied hosts...

19.These sixty deva-hosts, of varied kinds,
All came arranged in order of their groups,
And others too, in due array. They said:
‘He who’s transcended birth, he for whom
No obstacle remains, who’s crossed the flood,
Him, cankerless, we’ll see, the Mighty One,
Traversing free without transgression, as
It were the moon that passes through the clouds.’

20.Subrahma next, and with him Paramatta,
Sanankumara, Tissa, who were sons
Of the Mighty One, these also came.
Mahā-Brahmā, who ruled a thousand worlds,
In the Brahmā-world supreme, arisen there,
Shining bright, and terrible to see,
With all his train. Ten lords of his who each
Rule a Brahmā-world, and in their midst
Harita, who ruled a hundred thousand.

21.And when all these had come in vast array,
With Indra and the hosts of Brahma too,
Then too came Mara’s hosts, and now observe
That Black One’s folly.577 Kaṇha: ‘black’, but not connected with the Kanha mentioned in DN 3.1.23. [262] For he said:
‘Come on, seize and bind them all! With lust
We’ll catch them all! Surround them all about,
Let none escape, whoever he may be!’
Thus the war-lord urged his murky troops.
With his palm he struck the ground, and made
A horrid din, as when a storm-cloud bursts
With thunder, lightning and with heavy rain —
And then — shrank back, enraged, but powerless!

22.And He-Who-Knows-by-Insight saw all this
And grasped its meaning. To his monks he said:
‘The hosts of Mara come, monks — pay good heed!’
They heard the Buddha’s words, and stayed alert.

And Mara’s hosts drew back from those on whom
Neither lust nor fear could gain a hold.

‘Victorious, transcending fear, they’ve won:
His followers rejoice with all the world!′578 RD says: ‘We have followed the traditional interpretation in ascribing these last four lines to Mara. They may quite as well, or better, be a statement by the author himself.’ I have had the courage of his convictions, and made it so.